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Humans and Technology

How to work remotely during the coronavirus lockdown

Slack’s Ali Rayl tells us how the company is fostering remote working and Rajesh Anandan of Ultranauts, gives insight into what the future of remote work could be.

Mar 30, 2020
Radio Corona Title card

Update: this episode has ended. You can find other episodes here

In this episode of Radio Corona, Tanya Basu, a senior reporter at MIT Technology Review covering the intersection of humans and technology, hosted a Q&A with Rajesh Amandan, the CEO of Ultranauts, and Ali Rayl, the VP of customer experience at Slack.

Slack is powering modern remote work, and Ali talked to us about the pressures that newly remote offices are facing and how Slack is trying to meet those needs. Ultranauts is a coding outsourcing company whose workforce was entirely remote before the coronavirus outbreak. Its workforce is also made up predominantly of people on the autism spectrum. Rajesh discussed how his company keeps his team, which is prone to isolation, feeling socially connected and heard by coworkers.

This episode was recorded on March 30, 2020. You can watch the episode here. 

Tanya Basu: The two people we're talking to today are- from Slack, Ali Rayl. She is the Vice President of Customer Experiences there and we're also talking to Rajesh Anandan and you are, sorry not you, Rajesh is the CEO of Ultranauts, which is a company that is primarily remote and also primarily or a majority workforce of neuro-diverse people. And so I welcome many, any questions and if you are watching this on Facebook live, please feel free to drop those in the comments. And if you're watching this on Zoom, please feel free to drop those in the chat. So, welcome to both of you guys. Ali, I wanted to start off with you. A lot of people are using Slack right now, and I wanted to ask, how have you, how has Slack been hit right now in terms of not only bandwidth but within the company in terms of being remote? And this is a really big interest to me as well because I'm wondering as a company that has been no kind of at the forefront of remote work up til now, how have you guys been able to adjust to this huge change basically.

Ali Rayl: It's a good question. It's been, it's been really interesting. So, when we started Slack we were already a distributed team. There were a couple people in Vancouver, a couple people in San Francisco, one in New York, and a couple who worked from home like 100% of the time. So we've never been specifically a remote work product. Like it was never our vision to say this is great for people working remotely. It was just, this is a great way for people to work together. Whether or not they're in the same space. So, you know, even though many of us sit right next to one another, we still send one another messages on Slack as well. It is a huge adjustment for us because we do have offices and we are accustomed to having people sitting together, turning their chairs around, having those really useful serendipitous hallway conversations. I can no longer pause for 15 seconds outside of a meeting knowing that I'll catch somebody who I have like a quick question for. And those sorts of, serendipitous things that just help us gain knowledge and help us move business forward, do have to be a little more structured right now and a little more deliberate.


The other interesting thing for me as a leader and as a manager is you can no longer kind of walk around and get the ambient temperature of the group. So I run our customer experience department. One of the things that we do is support and obviously we have a lot of new folks coming onto the platform and a lot of people needing more out of Slack than they had anticipated and asking us for help. So we're pretty busy right now. And when everybody's in an office, you can just kinda, you can get a feel, you can get a vibe from the team for how they're doing. Like you can, you can see the stress, you can see if people are, you know, chatting with one another from time to time or if their head is down. And now this requires, I think all managers and leaders to really do explicit outreach to say, Hey, how are you? I know are busy. Are you doing okay? Have you taken a lunch? There's a lot more kind of deliberate thought that managers and leaders need to do at this moment.

They also asked about bandwidth, which has been really interesting. So we, gosh, probably two and a half years ago we sat down and said like, you know, we are doing this for real, we are going to scale this thing so that it can be 10 million, 100 million people. What does that infrastructure look like? Our systems have just handled this as they should. So we don't have engineers frantically running around in the background trying to provision more servers. And if you think about the shape of Slack and the way that our product works, like we are a business-focused product. So at the beginning of Europe's workday, we see the steady influx of users. So you know, more servers are automatically provision to handle them. Europe winds down, New York winds up. So those servers in New York go away more come online in USC. And so we have already this natural fluctuation every single day in capacity and the same systems that adjust our capacity throughout the working day are simply adjusting more to handle more people. It's like I'm really, really proud of our engineering teams for all that they've done to make it possible.

Tanya Basu: Yeah, that's really insightful and helpful. Kind of along those same lines, Rasjesh at Ultranauts, I'm curious about, Ali mentioned the isolation aspect and you guys are a company that have been remote for a few years. As far as I understand, correct me if I'm wrong, and also not only that, working with a group that is neurodiverse, I'm curious to understand how your workforce has been able to handle isolation and tried to connect with each other previous to this crisis and how this crisis has maybe changed those habits or not.

Rajesh Anandan: Yeah, sure. Thanks Tanya. And the first I have to say to Ali, we are huge fans.

Ali Rayl: Thank you, well we are huge fans of yours too.

Rajesh Anandan: I'm not sure how our company could exist without Slack. We've been around for seven years and we set out from day one to build a fully remote company and a fully distributed team. And we've been growing at 50% a year maintaining a 100% customer NPS. And we'd like to believe cause we deliver value, our business is software, data quality engineering, slack is a client as well. But it's really, it was really important for us to be very intentional from the beginning to address social isolation because we were going to be distributed. We now have teammates in 20 States across the US so we're all on shore, but distributed, and very diverse. Three quarters of our employee base is on the autism spectrum. And across our team we have a wide range of communication preferences and learning styles. And, and that makes for really interesting dynamic of trying to figure out how to create a cohesive team and a kind of unifying culture.


And so we've done a whole bunch of stuff. You know I'll start by sharing a couple of things we've done to address exactly the stuff Ali was just talking about. You know, when you're in an office you can just go over and talk to someone and see how they're doing or you can get a sense for how the team is doing, cause you're around each other and when you're fully distributed, you know, you don't know how someone is doing you may or may not notice from the tone of their voice or their, you know, how they appear on a call, and you're definitely not going to accurately read into it through a lot of the DM's and you know, group messages that are going back and forth. And so, our approach to that is to assume that people aren't going to tell you when things aren't going well. They're not going to proactively raise that to a teammate or a manager.


And then on our team. You know, while it's hard to generalize our team, I'd say advocating for yourself is not a strong point. And so we've got to build in multiple release valves if you would, multiple channels for feedback. One simple thing we do is we have a Slack bot that pulls the team every day at 5:00 PM local time. End of the day we cycled through about a dozen polls. Each poll is a dimension of inclusion or wellbeing as we've defined it for ourselves. And so every day it's like an HR survey going live and then the output is published into it, into a channel and everyone is aware of how we're doing. That kind of thing can be really great. You know, in the old days of agile and we had like Niko-Niko calendars where it was like a smiley face, just snap polls to give you a very quick pulse of how the team's doing. That doesn't tell you why something is going wrong, but it will alert you when something is and then you can dive in.

Another thing Ali mentioned is, you sort of lose the serendipity of just, you know, running into people and having a conversation when it's top of mind or when you're actually thinking about it, which you can't really create in a structured meeting. Like real problem solving and real creative collaboration doesn't happen because somebody scheduled a meeting for that hour. It happens when your brain is there. And so I think it's really important to recreate those moments. And you could absolutely do it virtually. Obviously, you know, it's not the same, it's a little different. In our case, we think of it in two terms: one is kind of the work related, serendipity that needs to happen. And so for that on our project teams, we'll have an always on work channel, or work room. There's sort of the work channel where it's fairly transactional messaging happening around, I have this question or I have this update but we'll also have an always on video link. Which might be inside Slack or it might be a, you know, hangout or something like that where team members can come in and go as they choose. It's usually you might have a PM who's kind of overseeing and to make sure someone's in the room, so to speak. But that means that when someone's stuck or when someone has an idea, they can immediately go in there and then you can swarm it and others will come in and it'll be a creative session just like you would in a physical, you know, room or lounge or couch or whatever it is. We have the same thing in terms of just the informal interactions, which also can be really important to keep team members feeling close to each other. So we have a cafeteria Slack channel where, you know, it's exactly what it sounds like. Like you could just go in and hang out. And we started by having a set time where like, I would be there on Fridays at 1:30 PM Eastern and so you could go hang out with the CEO if you wanted in the cafeteria. But thankfully nobody needs me around anymore and people will just have ad hoc hang out.


So I'd say you have to try a little bit harder, but you can recreate some of those kind of aspects of being in the office. And it's really important because, you know, the lack of the subtle belonging cues that you get from being around each other can be hugely detrimental to the trust that you develop on a team. And when you're missing out on all those visual cues and the tone and really the unspoken intent, of your communication is lost. It's just lost when you're remote. It doesn't matter if you're using the media or not, you can't recreate it. So you just have to try extra hard to create those moments of interaction and to keep a pulse on the team, and to just continually provide different ways in which people can raise concerns when they're not doing well or give each other feedback.

Tanya Basu: Yeah. I feel like something that you've touched on that a lot of people have been relying on Slack for as well is the idea of like not only collaboration but being creative with the technology you have and the tools you have and trying to make sure you're connecting with other people. And Ali, I guess a question I have for you, regarding remote work and Slack is what are some surprising or different ways people are using Slack in the age of Coronavirus? Or what are some tools that maybe a lot of us don't know about right now that can be used to harness the sort of collaboration that Rajesh is talking about right now?

Ali Rayl: Yeah. It's an interesting question. You know, we've been at this for, um, seven years, now, six, you know, with like actual people who aren't us using our product. And like overall the surprising thing for us is how many things we didn't anticipate, where our product really kind of stands up to the purpose and holds it up well. So the things that we're seeing now are, yeah, just in general, Slack as a product for teams to get together to get things done. And what we're seeing now is like the ad hoc medical communities that are coming together. They're sharing information.


There was one spun up by a company called ID Dot Me and any registered physician in the country can sign up and be in a workspace with any other registered physician in the company or in the country within like you know, under a minute. We have lots of different hacker communities coming together and working on solving and supply issues. There's the Build for COVID, a hackathon coming up that Facebook spun up, that's going to be on Slack. And so it's like, it's gratifying to see that it's working. We've seen different manifestations of this kind of work in the past, but this is truly for all of us, the first major global emergency and seeing that our product is standing up and helping in this, you know, particularly hard time is, it's really gratifying for us. The, I guess if I had to say surprising, the surprising thing is just that it works as is, we haven't had to make any changes to adjust for how it is. Yeah. It's, sorry, I had another thought and it just went away. We're just grateful to be a service right now

Tanya Basu: And you can jump in if that thought comes to mind. I completely understand. Thoughts disappear. Kind of relatedly Rajesh, I was thinking a lot about what, when you were talking about collaboration, communication and Slack as a tool for that. I'm wondering, are there some people that have trouble using Slack, and Ali kind of mentioned the idea of like being with other people and physically seeing signs of, you know, like an emotional reaction or how, like just communication in general. And I'm wondering if you have witnessed any changes in how people communicate, while they're working remotely or have tried to reach out to people in a different way because we're working remotely now.

Rajesh Anandan: Yeah. So, you know, at Ultranauts we've been remote from day one and we don't know anything else. And so, you know, every person we've hired, we've hired without ever meeting them. Right? We do performance reviews, reviews remotely. We give each other feedback remotely. We actually have a holiday party remotely, which if you could imagine the first time we tried that didn't go so well because some things don't translate to a virtual world, like your typical office holiday party is basically a lot of unstructured social time and, that doesn't really work if you have, you know, 50 people or 80 people on a call. And so we do have holiday parties now, which go really well, which are more structured. We have like contests and games that create moments of interaction that, don't just happen because you know, you're not offered the bar or the whatever. Yeah.


The, so a couple things I'd say. Really it's really important to define the rules of engagement or the rules, the new work rules, right? Because when you're in office, I know that you're working because I saw you come in, you are at your desk, I can look at you and guess whether you're open to a conversation right now or your heads down working right? Or you're in a meeting. And then I know that you left and I probably shouldn't pin you because you left the building, right? Those things disappear. So you've got to establish the ground rules. What are business hours? And then account for the fact that when you're at home, particularly now, but not just now, right? You might have kids, you might have other obligations. So what are the rules around when work happens? And you need to have a common understanding. It needs to be explicit. Everybody needs to know what it is and what to expect. And then what happens after hours? Like what's the, what are the expectations of our responsiveness? Because drawing those boundaries explicitly is absolutely critical when you go from being used to being kind of in the office environment to virtual. Because what can happen is you forget about boundaries and then it's always happening and that's not productive for anyone.


The second thing is you also, again, because you're not seeing each other and you don't know when someone's sort of ready to engage or if you need a response, you can't just walk over to their desk kind of thing. You've got to also then get rid of the, your tendency, you know, very human tendency, assume that everyone else is going to have the same habits I do. Right? So for example, very simple assumption is that when I Slack someone, I can assume that they will respond to me in about the time that I usually respond on Slack. But that's just not true. Right? So what is your typical response time on Slack? Turns out it's a wide range. Or, when, I receive feedback, you know, people have different from preferences to receiving feedback. And when you lose the 90% of a communication that's unspoken in terms of conveying intent, there's a lot of room for misunderstanding. And so having your individual preferences be explicit versus just assumed becomes really important.


So at Ultranaut, we have, on the former of like, what are the ground rules? We have work rules, like all the tribal rules, the unspoken rules, the norms. We just read it now, you know, we keep iterating on it and we have a group of people who own it and then, you know, everybody will give their feedback. And once a quarter we'll publish the next version. We have, as part of that, some general like collaboration rules and just behaviors we can expect of each other, in terms of collaborating as a team and then a specific set of Slack rules. Cause that's the place we live when we work. And that's important.


The other thing around understanding your team member's preferences is as simple as asking. And you know, there's a bunch of things you just should know if you're going to be working with someone. And we've constructed what we call a Biodex. It's a few years ago someone on the team said, you know, I can never really figure out how to work with some of the people on my team. I wish humans came with a user manual. We were like, ya humans should come with a user manual. So for us, we call it a Biodex. It's like 20 odd fields. Right now, it's a field in our slack profile because you can add custom fields and it links out to a Google doc, but we are actually building a Slack bot around it, which will be our public service in all this stuff that's going on and just push it out for free. And it's got things like, your average response time on Slack. So that if I Slack you and I'm waiting and I don't know how long I'm waiting, that can create a lot of anxiety and stress and frustration and instead you could just look it up. Or how I prefer to receive critical feedback because it turns out while you might have learned in some management class that if you're giving critical feedback, you should always give it in the moment in a live conversation. Turns out that actually doesn't work for most humans, certainly not on our team and I don't think on any team. And so in our Biodex you can state your preferences in terms of receiving critical feedback timing. So in the moment or end of day or end of week, you can pick, you know, delivery in person or actually would you prefer a DM, have chance to digest it and then have a live conversation if you actually want to clarify what the feedback was. And framing. Is there a way to the person giving the feedback can frame that feedback so that you're less likely to get defensive and more likely to listen? My thing is, you know, if someone can this, clarify up front that they don't question my intent. They know I was trying to do the right thing. It really helps me hear that feedback. Right? We all have these things. So all that to say, there are a bunch of common preferences or common sort of behaviors that we have all have different preferences on like my preferred response, my average re, you know, typical response time or if you need an urgent response, which communication channels should you use? Should you text me? Should you just DM me, should you just go ahead and call me. These are things that are really important to just get out in the open, and it just reduces a lot of the misunderstanding and friction that can very naturally happen when you're remote.

Tanya Basu: And I feel like that's good general rules regardless of a remote or not.

Rajesh Anandan: Absolutely. It's just that when you're remote things that you could normally get away with ignoring in a norm, you know, typical environment can become, can fester and can become, you know, really big problems down the road. And I think we all need to, everybody now needs to adjust to this remote environment for the foreseeable future. You know, maybe it's gonna be a month, maybe it's gonna be six months. Right? But I think we've got a think about the longer term impacts and adopt the behaviors that not just make virtual work work in terms of the logistics and the infrastructure, but also virtual teamwork work in terms of the culture that you're going to be creating.

Tanya Basu: Yeah. And something that you mentioned early on in your answer that I want to ask Ali about is about the idea of boundaries. I feel like, you know, Slack is something that many corporations, groups, even families are often using. And the fact that we're now working from home, a lot of America's working from home right now is, and not necessarily having boundaries between when is, you know, I'm leaving the office versus coming into the office. What are your thoughts about how Slack might change in the culture after, even during Coronavirus with regards to work life balance and how Slack can contribute to sort of creating healthy boundaries between a work life and home life?

Ali Rayl: As somebody who doesn't always have the healthiest work life boundaries, I totally get this. So I've actually been much more strict about these boundaries over the last couple of weeks because it is so much easier for things just kind of mushed together. You know, there are days when I started working at 6:30 and 8:00 PM, I was like, man, I'm really tired. I'm like, gosh, I just worked like super huge day. Like just very tactically over the weekend, I turned off badges on my phones so I couldn't see the little red dot. I did glance at my phone when pushes came in because there were a couple of things that I needed to handle as they came in. But just like that little simple thing of not having a dot telling me to open it caused me to not open the app all weekend.


I've been setting up pretty regular working hours and there are a few things that people can do. One thing, so this is my personal beef, not everybody will agree with me, but, I just ignore the little green and gray status thoughts. So if you use Slack, you can see whether somebody's online or not. And I kind of eliminate those from my mind because it doesn't matter. Like if you step back and imagine that we're back in an email world, you would never stop to say like, is this person at their computer right now, can I email them? or should I wait until they get to their computer before I send them an email? And I think that, one of the best things that we can lean into right now, and you just alluded to this is asynchronous work. So there are a lot of things, like I have a lot of questions and I have a lot of things that need to get done, but those questions aren't urgent and those things aren't urgent.


I can push them out and just know that they will happen and come back to me. So, somebody who works with me for example, knows that nothing is urgent unless I say it is. And otherwise I know that, I can trust my team to get to it in the right amount of time for them and then they'll finish it off. And if I have a date and I didn't specify it, that's on me, not on them. I think one of the things that we should really lean into here and that we're going to have to, is more trust between colleagues and between managers and their teammates. We're going to need to move to a mode where people are looking at output and outcomes rather than like monitoring and making sure that people are, you know, at their computer and at their desk and looking very productive. It just the surveillance mechanisms don't work anymore. I think this is a super, super healthy thing. So if you can trust that your team knows what they're doing, why they're doing it, why it's important, you know, what good looks like when it's done. Trust that they can manage their time because you know, we're all grown ups here, we can do this and then just make sure that things are happening at the right cadence, at the right quality.


This is the, I think that this is the best way to work is when we all feel like we have a lot of autonomy to do our jobs as well as we possibly can within the, you know, the parameters that we know exist. And we all have parameters. There's always time budgets. Ultranauts, for example, like by the way, huge fans of yours. We've been working with Ultranauts for years and years and all of our accessibility testing goes to Ultranauts. So they are one of the things that could hold this up, cause we can't release new version of our desktop software until we're sure that, for example, it works with screen readers and these close collaborations of being able to say like, Hey Ulternauts, here's the body of work. Here's when we'd like it to be done. And just knowing that it'll come back to us, that relationship can exist between people on the same team as well. So I think it's, I think this is a huge opportunity for us to change how we think about working together.

Rajesh Anandan: And I think, you know, to your point about, someone's sitting at their desk is not a measure of productivity. You know, it's gonna push more organizations to work in a, you know, to adopt agile practices cause it goes back to like the, you know, some of the basic principles of agile and scrum of you know, measure output, not hours, like hours of work is meaningless and if you're spending a lot of hours you might be wasting most of hours. And so it does though force managers, particularly if you're not in an engineering field or function, to work very differently in thinking about estimation of tasks and, you know, being very specific, up front about what you expect, like defining done and all this stuff, whether you're in sales and marketing or HR. We've all gotta now start adopting those practices. But at the end of the day, it saves rework, it makes you more efficient. Like these are all good things. I did want to add, cause I know we're coming on time, just, maybe the, in terms of work life balance like this happened when email showed up, it happened when Blackberry showed up. It happened when iPhone, like it's these new platforms that make, you know, reduce friction then force you to create boundaries because, well, it's great and fun and easy and so you can't let it take over your life.

So I don't, you know, I don't think there's anything new with what we're dealing with right now other than it's a new pla, you know, it's a newer version of what we had to deal with when email first came out. And before we were going around on blackberries. A couple of things that have really been meaningful for our team at Ultranaut on Slack have been, because maybe this goes back to its design. You know, it came out of a bunch of game designers. They made it fun and engaging like it's a thoughtfully designed product. And our team does enjoy spending time outside of work, on Slack because you know, for some of our teammates, Facebook is not fun and overwhelming. And I mean, I'm not panning Facebook at all. It's just being in an environment with peers, you know, where you can easily create channels around shared interests, much rather hang out there, you know?

And so for example, we have a channel called connected. It used to be called not alone holiday cause the holidays are really stressful times for everyone and then for some of our teammates particularly overwhelming. And the idea that you could have a safe space to retreat to in the middle of just craziness of Thanksgiving was really great. And there were peers who were there to support you and you know, it worked out. Or we use a bot called donut, that is a Slack bot, that anyone can easily, start using where there's a bunch of different functions, but one of them is random pairings for virtual coffees. It's great for teams that are virtual, that want to stay in touch and removes the effort of like having to reach out. And then on our team, if we have team members who aren't going to proactively reach out, you can just sign up to the donut channel and then you'll be randomly paired every other week with a new team member to just hang out. So there's so many other ways in which I think the tool and the platform can help build those connections and keep those connections as you move to a remote model. Because there's just an ecosystem of bots that and apps that outside of the core platform also exists.

Tanya Basu: Yeah. Great. We are two minutes past the half hour. I'm happy to keep asking questions and keep talking if you guys are free and want to continue. But you know, if you guys need to also go elsewhere, I completely understand. So, how are you guys doing?

Ali Rayl: I still have time.

Rajesh Anandan: Same here.

Tanya Basu: Okay, great. I think something that some of our audiences asking about is, the idea of productivity, which you both sort of touched on, but I'm curious to know now that we've gone into sort of a two week experiment nationwide of working from home and being able to try to, you know, do the whole work life balance as well as, you know, helping or just working in general. Do you think that a person can be just as productive and just as useful remotely as they can be in person? And do you feel like this crisis will change how we think about, uh, people being remote? I guess I will ask you first, Ali.


Ali Rayl: Yes, I think people can definitely be just as productive at home. Sometimes we see that people, we have some employees who will actually just go work from home for a week because they find that the balance of being in the office and you know, being at home for a week, maybe once a quarter or something really kind of helps them bust through the really long hard projects that they're trying to get through. So I don't think there's necessarily an office versus home dichotomy here. We are in a really strange time though, where we have to think very specifically right now about people's productivity. Because a person who in general could be very productive from home, right now may not be very productive. Their children may be home from now through, you know, June 15th or whatever. There are two members of my own direct team that have family members who are sick. And yeah. It's stressful. They're just under a lot of stress. They can't travel to see them. And even if they could, you know, they couldn't see them. Like this is a hard time to be a productive human. And I think it's important for all of us to just remember that, whatever we're seeing right now from our teams, is not necessarily representative of what that person is capable of in the abstract.

But I do hope like, I think this is a huge, huge opportunity. So you think about large companies, most of them have an office of digital transformation. These are multi year efforts to drag like large legacy companies in many cases to the common, the or the the modern era. So how do we get them on these common tools? How do we get some of our legacy systems out of the way so that we can move faster? And those offices are just like, they're having a real moment right now because suddenly their companies don't have a choice. These multi-year efforts that are bogged down and you know, kind of organizational malaise and contracts and stuff, like it just has to go because people have to move like they have to digitally transform right now to keep functioning as a business. And you know, the fact that these offices exist means that there's a lot of data being gathered. I expect we are going to see a lot of really cool insights, a lot of really cool papers coming out, you know, six, nine months from now. Where people are like, here's what happened to our productivity during work from home. Here are the things that worked extraordinarily well that will undoubtedly continue into the future. Here are the things that didn't work well. This is, once we're through this, it's going to be such an interesting time for us to look back on as businesses to figure out, what should just exist going forward forever? The kind of experiments we could never run without some sort of event to precipitate it.

Tanya Basu: Yeah. I completely agree. I'm so looking forward to those papers honestly.

Ali Rayl: Me too. I really am.


Tanya Basu: Yeah. Rajesh, what are your thoughts?

Rajesh Anandan: Yeah. So I'd say, you know, Ultranauts doesn't have a before and after comparison on remote work, but we work with you know, we work with usually like fortune 500 clients, engineering teams or data science teams cause we come in and we'll embed and being the quality engineers. And so those teams tend to be more distributed. And you know, before and after. But even so, we've had, a bunch of clients we work with come to us and just ask us for like, all right, how do we make this work? Because now suddenly it's not that some people were remote some of the time. Now everybody is remote all the time. And, what I've heard anecdotally so far is like, wow, this is so much more efficient. You don't have to commute so immediately, you know, take back two hours of the day. Right? I mean, that's huge.

You know, and then you also realize how much time in the office was not productive. You know, you start realizing all the meetings you don't need to have. That's another thing that you realize quickly is if you're going to have a meeting, you need to actually, you know, have an outcome and you have to keep people's attention for it's like teaching third graders or something, like you have to try a little bit harder and make those interactions really count and make it worth people's time. So I would guess people start realizing that it's much more productive. I'm not sure it'll create like this binary shift of okay, everybody's working from home. But also, you know, it is a lot cheaper, to not have office space or have less office space. And I think coming out of this crisis, there will b more, you know, we will all be more cost conscious and things like, well, do we really need to have all this office space? Might drive the decision, which should have happened anyway because this is a, the more productive model be.


And I think to Ali's point, we can't compare the potential of remote to the current state where we're remote. But you know, some of us might have family members who are at risk or sick or we have kids who are not in school. And so we're trying to manage school from home with work. And so that's not a fair test. But I think in general, I would be surprised if most people don't find this to be more productive. Initially. It will feel more isolating. But I think you can compensate for that and have, you know, build some better practices. You know, something like when we're going through something like this, you know, we're all seeking reassurance from each other and that's harder to do in a remote setting.


On our team, you know, we have some members, team members, like any team, who want to talk more about what's going on, other team members who feel triggered, like hearing more and more about COVID19. So like, we simply, you know, created some rules. So in our general channel or in our project channels, there's no talk of COVID19 because those, that's not the purpose of those channels. And we created a COVID19 channel where that's where you go if you want to share news or you know, ask questions or need help or whatever it is. And then someone on the team suggested today of like, hey, I just have this need to check in with people. They're like, just see how you're doing. Are you doing okay? And I don't want to DM people cause I don't know if that's going to be okay or not. And so someone else, you know, came up with a simple idea, well in the morning, let's just have a check-in in this channel where we can share what's going on and you can ask each other and all you have to do is acknowledge with a heart emoji that I hear you, I'm here for you. And so I think we just have to develop new habits. But it really doesn't need to be a more isolating construct. I think it's up to us to make it less so.

Tanya Basu: That's a great note to end on actually. Thank you both so much for taking the time to talk to me. And just a note to everyone who is watching this, please follow, MIT Technology Review @techreview on Twitter. And also please subscribe to our new newsletter devoted only to Coronavirus. Maybe not something to drop in your Slack channel over there Rajesh, but maybe for the news channel there. It is called Coronavirus Tech Report. Please follow that. Please subscribe. Thank you both so much. Rajesh Anandan, I am so sorry I am killing your last name, you are the CEO of Ultranaut and Ali Rayl of Slack, the Vice President of Customer Experiences at Slack. Thank you both so much for joining us today.

Ali Rayl: Thanks for having me. It was great.

Rajesh Anandan: Thanks for having me

Tanya Basu: Bye.